Tuesday, July 17, 2007

How is this not America’s most popular sport?

Recently, the trib has run several critical stories on the upcoming hockey fighting camp, in which youngsters are taught the finer points of the only reason to watch hockey.

I'm really fascinated by what this says about us as a nation--Americans are always branded as violent thugs, yet this game of violent thuggery is fading and could soon be dieing. Major newspapers across the nation are dropping their coverage of their local hockey team's away games because the sport is fading so much that they don't want to waste the couple hundred bucks to send a staffer out on the road. Some newspapers are dropping coverage all together, and it doesn't look like the NHL is doing much of anything to reverse the tide.

Maybe I'm just too wired into negative case examples because of the current project I'm working on, but I can't figure out why hockey is losing popularity so quickly. If it's true that Americans are so drawn to violence (which is a fairly difficult claim to prove, but seems to have some face validity) why is the most violent of the major professional sports declining? Yes, we still have gruesomely violent football, but if you get into a fight in football, you’re suspended for several games. In hockey, it’s two minutes in a box unless you really mess up the guy.

In fact, take a quick perusal of Rule 56, a/k/a the "fisticuffs" rule. in addition to being the only thing written after the year 1920 to use the word "fisticuffs" earnestnly, it outlines the rules and punishments that govern fighting in Hockey. Not only do most of the rules only focus on the instigator, but some rules even reduce punishment for a fella who makes the fight even. For example, check out Note 4:

"If a player penalized as an instigator of an altercation is wearing a face shield, he shall be assessed an additional Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty.
(NOTE 4) Should the player who instigates the fight be wearing a face shield, but removes it before instigating the altercation, the additional Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty shall not apply."

Think about the equivalent: what would the reaction be if Major League Baseball said that a player wouldn't be suspended if he took off his helmet before charging the mound? I can't help but believe such an announcement would be met with all forms of righteous indignation, but in hockey, it's just par for the course.

As for Mr. Boogaard's camp, I think the outrage shown over a hockey player teaching children to fight is a bit misplaced at best (I would wager that an illegal and immoral war that has taken over 600,000 lives teaches children much more about the acceptability of violence as a solution to our problems than does a one-afternoon course on hockey fights), but the outrage alone speaks volumes about the complex relationship we have with our violence, especially in relms where violence is not only accepted, but encouraged as the only way to win. I'd like to think it signals a shift in our collective attitude about the acceptance of violence, but with the surging popularity of "ultimate fighting" and other such blood-sports, I must dejectedly admit their must be some other force at play here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am really no expert on the subject, but my guess as to why hocky is loosing popularity is a combination of the teams being traded more then in other sports (or at least according to my grandfather which amounts to very little) and the fact that you have to be very rich to play the sport yourself. I wouold think that it would be more likely you would want to watch people do something well that you attempt to do yourself. For example, I never watched volleyball until I played it in high school. Just some thoughts.
Laura M